As reported lots of places, including the Boston Herald
, a report in today's New England Journal of Medicine
(abstract only; full text requires expensive subscription): "The rates of carotid endarterectomy, cardiac catheterization, coronary-artery bypass grafting, and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty were higher in for-profit health plans than they were in not-for-profit health plans; the rates of use of other common costly operative procedures were similar in the two types of plan. After adjustment for enrollee case mix and other characteristics of the plans, the for-profit plans had significantly higher rates than the not-for-profit plans for 2 of the 12 procedures we studied and had lower rates for none." This is definitely one of those glass-half-full or half-empty stories. The Herald story included some follow-up with the authors:
The results were unexpected, but not surprising, said Dr. Eric C. Schneider, a Harvard School of Public Health assistant professor.
"It's very difficult among health plans in general to change the decision-making of physicians and patients,'' he said. "And with liability concerns, health plans may feel that it would be too risky to deny a procedure.'' . . .
In some cases, nonprofits provided fewer procedures, but it's not clear why, Schneider said. It's possible that nonprofit administrators have a better sense of how to care for problems without relying on surgery.
The study clearly shows that "fears about for-profits skimping on high-cost procedures might be unfounded,'' Schneider said. But it doesn't show whether they provide the same level of care when it comes to preventive and other services.